Friday, January 16, 2009

An appetizing business practice

We drive through an ethereal mix of fog and patches of sun from Birch Bay Washington up across the border to Chilliwack B.C. this morning.

A lunch date with our great friends Don and Pat is scheduled at the Capital, the best Chinese restaurant in the entire world, er, arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Chilliwack at the least, where we first tasted the Chinese taco known as Lettuce Wrap many years ago, and our benchmark standard of comparison whenever and wherever we eat Chinese and even Thai food: "How does it compare to the Capital?" Since we're flying to Bangkok four days from now, it seems only sensible and prudent to bring our taste buds up to speed.

Don and Pat are delayed by a previous appointment, so once they arrive we make up for lost time by starting with bowls of hot-and-sour soup (won-ton for Don, who hasn't yet learned in more than six decades on this earth to enjoy anything that tastes of vinegar) accompanied by spring rolls. We then proceed to the lunch specials. Delicious and a bargain price for such high quality!

Despite the late lunch, we manage to arrive at daughter Karen's house in time to greet Jake as he arrives home from school, to let Tegan guide us on a walk around the neighborhood, and to start making plans for dinner once we've said our goodbyes to Don and Pat.

Once Daddy arrives home from the salt mine, the six of us head for the Chilliwack branch of a regional chain known as Mr. Mike's, a Sizzler-style chain that began its existence as a bargain "steak" house. They've moved themselves sufficiently up the food chain (is it legal to use a figure of speech to describe something literally?) to compete in the same niche with, say, Earls.

By now it's after 6:00 p.m., the grandchildren are hungry and already showing signs of tiring, and the hostess warns us of a potential 25-minute wait as we stand in the midst of a small crowd of would-be diners.

Now suddenly comes the fun part. Employees appear with platters of complimentary appetizers and offer them around to those of us waiting for tables, complete with small plates and napkins. No fewer than four kinds of appetizers turn a drab wait into an almost festive occasion during the next 15 minutes, and we're seated in a nice corner booth almost before we know it. Decent steaks for the guys, decent kids-menu steaks for the kids, and decent stir-fry and seafood bowl presentations respectively for the ladies. A Wolf Blass shiraz washes it all down quite pleasantly.

There must be other restaurants that follow this custom of serving generous quantities of complimentary appetizers to customers waiting for a table but this is the first time in our recollection that we've ever experienced it. Did we enjoy dinner? Yes we did. Will we return to Mr. Mike's? Absolutely.

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